Making Mistakes

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How to be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi is out of stock at Amazon.  And Bookshop. And Barnes & Noble.  This is awesome… I hope.  I hope the book is read by white people, then passed to another white person.  I hope these copies are read by a white mom and then her husband reads it, and then her son, and then her mother, and then her best friend, and then her best friend’s husband.  I hope there are long texts and Zoom calls about it, that couples are discussing what they read over cups of coffee on early mornings and as their heads hit their pillows at night.  I hope book clubs across America not only choose it, but read it, finish it, and when they meet together, being social distant, they end up having the club end hours later than usual because of the conversation over it.

I hope it isn’t in a lot of beautiful flatlays on Instagram, posed with a Diptique candle or a mug of coffee.  I hope it isn’t placed just so in a bookcase, its spine intact, its bookjacket pristine.  I hope these copies get stained with tea and coffee, have pages dogeared, the jacket lost, random receipts tucked into it as bookmarks, notes scribbled in the margins, whole paragraphs highlighted.

Yesterday a Black influencer I follow on Twitter shared that an influx of white people have started following her on Instagram.  She wanted to see the positive in it but was suspect.  If these people weren’t interested in her platform before, why are they now?  Other Black influencers replied that they also saw it and felt it was disingenuous.  I DMed her to let her know I may have been part.  She was one of the influencers I recommended in Saturday’s post as I have followed her on multiple platforms for years and really admire her.  I hoped that those of you who did follow her and other Black influencers the past few days didn’t do it to tick a box on the Woke Checklist.

Fellow white people, I know the past few days have been rough and you’re realizing you may not be as much of an ally as you thought you were. I know I struggled with words all weekend, will what I say sound racist or stupid or wrong?  I worry it will be picked apart, show me as uneducated, sheltered, unfeeling.  Maybe it’s better to say nothing at all.

I returned to Twitter, and saw this Tweet from Akilah Hughes:

We’re going to get it wrong.  We were taught half-truths in high school history class and raised by parents who thought it was progressive to be colorblind.  Most of our neighbors were white like us, our classmates white like us. I grew up in a county where as a white person, I was a minority and I get it wrong.  We can be married to a Black person, teach Black students, have Black friends, employ Black people, be employed by Black people and still get it wrong.  The issue isn’t being wrong, it’s not trying to improve.  It’s like learning to play piano.

We’re going to hit the wrong notes and those who live with us are going to cringe and maybe tell us to shut up or leave when we play.  But the only way we will get better is if we work through the wrong notes.

You can have the most gorgeous baby grand in the corner of your living room but that doesn’t mean you know how to play.  Don’t buy the books if you’re not going to read them.  Don’t follow the Black influencers if you think within a month you’ll be muting and unfollowing.  That is achieving nothing.  I know you may feel backed into a corner right now and this will at least make you look like you’re trying, but this isn’t about optics, it’s about true change from within.

But how do we change from within?  Think how you have changed from your time training for a sport or learning a musical instrument. There is no timeline for completion, it’s ongoing.  You learn, and then you find ways to improve upon that, to refine it.  And then you take what you learned and move on to the next challenge. 

Even if you feel as though everyone is yelling that you need to be informed and an ally and woke immediately, it’s not going to happen.  You need to learn and unlearn, this will take time and analysis and discussion.

Did you buy Kendi’s book? Great!  Now read it.  When it gets hard or confusing or upsetting, write about it in your journal.  Research that topic online.  Read a review written by a Black person to get some perspective.  And then pick up the book again and keep reading. Consider reading with a friend so you can discuss what you’ve learned to better process while also motivating one another to keep reading.  If you’re into social media, consider sharing your progress on the book to inspire others to read it and to hold yourself accountable.  Google the author and research what other individuals outside your circle, especially Black thought leaders, thought of it.

Did you follow a bunch of Black creatives on Instagram? Great!  Now go to their profiles, scroll through their feed, tap on their Highlights and get to know them better.  Not only will this help you better understand who you started following, it will trick the algorithm into seeing their content more often in your feed. If their content makes you uncomfortable, sit with that discomfort. Don’t unfollow, don’t mute, let these new perspectives wash over you through the next few months.

Feel helpless?  Donate.  Donating may feel like a cop-out but it’s the best way to make a true impact and fund those who are on the ground helping.  I always felt it was tacky to show off any charitable act, but I saw that when I shared here on the blog that I made a donation, it inspired some of you to do the same.  Since you’re likely not a millionaire, I don’t think it’s necessary to share how much you donate, but share where you donate.  It can pressure friends to follow suit and give them an idea of a good organization that can use the money.  Also check to see if your employer matches donations.

Where to Donate

The Minnesota Defense Fund which I suggested and donated to last week is asking people to donate elsewhere right now.  A few options are the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black Visions Collective, Campaign Zero, Color of Change, The Marshall Project, and Black Lives Matter.  Consider donating to your local bail fund, this list shares all the protest bail funds across the country

You’re going to make mistakes.  I am going to make mistakes.  You don’t want to know how many times I’ve rewritten this piece and how much I am going to cringe after publishing it thinking I’ve said something offensive.  But we can learn from mistakes, we can’t learn from inaction. And it’s on us to start the work now.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this.

    “we can learn from mistakes, we can’t learn from inaction” resonates with me.

  2. Thank you so much for this! I am one of those people whose IG feed looks a lot different this week than it did last week. And as I listen and learn, I am sure I will edit who I follow to those who challenge me while “teaching me to play the piano better”.

  3. I keep coming back to your comment that some Black influencers seemed to think some of the new white followers were being disingenuous and perhaps some are. But speaking personally, the idea of why I’m following someone now and not previously is simply because I didn’t know about them. It kinda feels like damned if I do/damned if I don’t. I don’t “live” on social media. I’m a 54 yo white woman in Columbus, OH. I peruse blogs and Instagram, but I don’t spend a ton of time on it. I do/will follow anyone I find interesting regardless of skin color. And I look forward to reading the books you recommended. Thanks!

    1. I guess if you woke up to 5,000 white women suddenly following you when you had been on Instagram for years and hardly had any white followers it would feel really weird. I know when a man follows me I am instantly suspect and scroll through their feed to see if they’re some sort of creep. If I woke to 5K of them following me I’d be seriously suspect. No one wants to be fetishized, no one wants to feel that they’re only being followed, or befriended, or invited to an event or dated, or anything else because of the color of their skin. I do believe that the majority of people following my friend and other black influencers this week are doing it because they do want to hear their voices, understand their perspective, and diversify their feed and their lives. But I can understand that after being treated as lesser-than or ignored for an entire career to wake to your following doubling, you’re going to be seriously wary. This time right now isn’t about us and how we feel, it has been about that for centuries. As long as you know you’re doing what you’re doing for the right reasons and are fully aware you have room for growth and education and are working on it, that’s what counts.

      1. Yeah, 5k new followers would be head-scratching, as I like to say. As someone with maybe a dozen followers, most of whom are friends and family, I didn’t have a realization of the scale we were talking about here. Thanks for providing that perspective, Alison.

    2. The “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” feeling really, truly sucks. I think of myself as pretty woke but this week I’ve come face to face with some prejudices I didn’t even know I carried. I’ve felt attacked, as a white woman. I’ve wanted to close the app. Instead I think about why I am so uncomfortable, in that moment. What makes me upset or uneasy, what makes my stomach clench, what gives me chills. And I sit with it.

      Then I think about how many POC, specifically Black people, live with this discomfort and clenched stomach and uneasiness every single day. They can’t close the app when they go for a jog or bird watch or pick up a few things at the store or sleep in their own bed. That is my privilege, as a white person in America. My uneasiness is a drop in the bucket. Black people live with “damned if I do / damned if I don’t knee” every day. But their version is life or death. Ours involves a tummy ache.

  4. Allie and all of the WO Community that have commented…thank you….many of you made me tear up…again…thank you.

  5. Just wanted to add to my comment about the quest for perfection – I think part of it comes from many of us having the ingrained belief that we’re ‘good’ people. So when we’re challenged with evidence that suggests the opposite (eg that even an unintentional behaviour of ours may be racist or prejudiced), our gut reaction is to either deny it or never put ourselves in that position again (ie by remaining silent).

    But the thing is, absolute goodness or evil only exists in fairytales. The truth is that we are all more nuanced than that – good people do bad things & vice versa. But it’s difficult to become better if you’re never going to acknowledge anything bad that you’ve done, whether it’s intentional or unintentional. Just don’t get upset with minorities if we call out your behaviour but don’t have the energy to expound on why it’s bad. That’s what emotional labour is – hence why I’m thanking Allie for taking on that role.

    1. Your first paragraph… I think it will hit home with a lot of readers and it did for me. I really think it’s important for us to sit in that discomfort, to recognize how we may deny it and question ourselves. That’s where growth comes. It’s easy to say we’re listening, we’re going to look within, and then say and do nothing. And doing that accomplishes nothing, it holds all of us back.

  6. I’m honestly just happy to see non-minorities acknowledging that continued silence is not the answer to these issues – never saying anything in the quest for a perfect response is futile, because perfection is for Barbie dolls & not humans. Thank you for putting in the emotional labour to expand on this, Allie.

    As a non-black minority born into a white majority country, & now living in a non-black & non-white majority country (yet I’m still a minority lol), I know how exhausting it can be to constantly have to be justifying, validating, explaining or defending your own identity or opinion. So I can’t imagine how much worse it is for black people living in a country that is supposed to be theirs (in the back of my mind, the sad truth is I’ll always know I’m supposed to be an ‘other’ when I’m anywhere outside of South Asia). Thanks for making space for their (& my) minority voices on your platform, Allie.

  7. Here’s where our money’s going in the Milwaukee ‘burbs: Liberate MKE — 25 partners, including the ACLU of Wisconsin, BLOC, Center for Popular Democracy, Citizen Action Wisconsin, Leaders Igniting Transformation, MICAH, Urban Underground, the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, Wisconsin Voices and the YWCA of Southeast Wisconsin — all working together for equality and justice.

    My generation was going to change the world. We wanted to redo society to mirror our more enlightened liberal values. We raged against the Viet Nam war. We redefined rules for how to live purposefully. We demanded equal treatment (for women and — less determinedly — others). I will never understand how so many voters my age turned their backs on all that and elected That Man. We over-70s can’t all march in protest against the evil that no longer lurks in our darkest depths, but we can damn well use whatever resources we have to make it possible for our children and our grandchildren to get it right this time. I need a piano teacher.

    1. Thank you for sharing Liberate MKE!

      And yes to your second paragraph!! And I think right now we white people need to teach ourselves piano. There are enough videos and books and activists speaking out on social media for us to get started. And it’s important to know what is going on now may be a continuation of what happened during the Civil Rights era, but it has changed with the addition of technology, of hip hop, of social media and how we are all performing for an audience, whether it’s our relatives on Facebook or a larger audience. To enlighten all generations of the changes that have happened and how they can make things appear better but have made things in some ways far worse is a task that we white people need to take.

  8. Thanks Alison. I first started following you when looking for a more realistic and authentic fashion blog space and I’ve always loved your transparency and generosity. We are all works in progress and committing to continuing that progress should be all our goals.

  9. I’m so glad you posted this! I was just ruminating about a conversation at work and berating myself for not acting as the ally I would like to be. Thanks to your words, I’m now looking at it as a starting part to help me figure out how to take more steps towards being that ally. As uncomfortable as this is, fumbling around together is better than just sitting here watching other people’s pain.

    1. It is. Recognizing that moment and looking for ways to learn from it and find methods to be educated and a better ally is important. It’s what we all need to do now and continue to do. <3

  10. I followed a bunch of Black influencers over the last few days, mostly those belonging to the communities I like in IG, sewing, plants, fats, and foodies. I did this not to feel like I’m “woke,” a term I would never use about myself because I cringe at cultural appropriation, but because I realized that I really didn’t have was many POC as I thought I did in my feed, and I wanted to change that. Just like I normalized fat bodies for myself, to get over my fat phobia, by following so many fats on IG (and it worked), I am trying to make Black voices more common in my social media. Everyone is pretty much entitled to their opinion about why people do the things they do, and Black influencers are certainly valid in the feeling that people might be disingenuous. If they don’t want white followers, they are free to say so, but until they do, I will do my best to elevate their voices, just like in real life.

    1. Thank you Julia. Your comment about how adding fat bodies to your feed normalized it is why I am so glad so many of us started following Black or a more diverse group of Black influencers this week. I think it wasn’t as much that they didn’t want white followers, but that it was a shock to wake up to 5-10K more followers overnight. Where did they come from, and why didn’t they follow sooner, and will they stick around. Thank you for elevating their voices! <3

      1. I think a lot of us didn’t know what we were missing until we really looked for it. I’m sure that that is crappy to say, but I’m trying to be truthful about my inherent racism, and honestly that’s what I noticed about myself.

  11. As always, such a thoughtful and immediately usable post. Mr Kendi’s book is excellent. I have found engaging (again and again, no end in sight) with Layla Saad’s book Me and White Supremacy to be a challenging and effective way to move toward becoming truly antiracist.

  12. Your honesty and caring shine.

    I reminded my daughter this morning that being a parent is about making mistakes, and modeling for our children that we strive to fix them. (Today is her daughter’s first birthday, and she was recounting some recent errors in parenting to me.) You, Alison, are also doing a great service to your readers with your modeling of striving to do better. Thank you so much!

      1. I just need to add a postscript. Yesterday, when my son called from Seattle, he told he he was really getting into How to Be Antiracist. He also couldn’t find a physical copy, but got it as an audiobook. (By the way, he got it from a company who donates the profits to the local bricks and mortar bookstore of your choice. I have to get that exact info from him!) I usually only listen to audiobooks on long road trips, but I may have to get this one sooner than I travel.

  13. This is a very helpful, encouraging, and informative post. I live in Canada, but there’s certainly no border on how far this information should be shared.

    Thank you.

  14. This: ‘We can learn from mistakes. We can’t learn from inaction.’ More and more I am convicted (trying to own my own reaction only) that the fact that as a white woman I can choose to avoid the issue is the very reason I cannot choose to avoid the issue. If the new books aren’t available, re-read the classics: Howard Thurman’s ‘Jesus and the Disinherited’ is relentless in its depiction of racism in America, powerful in its critique of talking ‘of the disinherited’ rather than ‘to’ or ‘with’ them, and striking in its insight that racism’s destructive impact — predominantly and horrifically borne by black people — undermines the well-being of society as a whole.
    Thank you.

  15. Thank you again for continuing to use your platform in a positive manner. I really appreciate that you’re taking the time to share. I’m a white passing biracial woman and the emotional labor to educate people is exhausting. I am thankful for people like you who do the work to help educate. None of us have all the answers, all of the time (including me) but we can all do our best.

  16. Thank you for continuing this conversation — it’s so important! And I think those of us who are consistent followers of WO know that you are writing this in a sincere manner, not as a way to sell something. These suggestions you’ve given are helpful; thank you!

    May I add a suggestion? For those of us who are avid fiction readers, start reading books by African American authors (& other POC authors as well). It’s enlightening to read the perspective of someone who does not look like me, and I truly believe it helps develop empathy, while also helping us realize commonalities.

    1. This is a great suggestion, Lee. I just ordered some more books for Emerson that are fellow tweens but are Black as well as other kids of color for this very reason. <3

  17. After I read your post I realized my Instagram was so white. And it is not reflective of my world, so I wanted to change it. I’m sad that following has become suspect but of course it would be, because that’s the world we are in. I am already enjoying the new accounts and appreciate the opportunity to widen my world as well as my child’s.

  18. Public librarian here. Check your local library for ebooks and downloadable audiobooks. If you don’t already have a card, they are probably issuing them online. There is likely to be a waiting list for Kendi’s book, but there are lots of reading lists out there with other excellent titles. If your library has hoopla, the books on that platform are available immediately. They have an excellent selection under the title Conversations on Race. They also have Kendi’s earlier book, Stamped from the Beginning, available as an audiobook.

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